The destruction of the flood gives way to a new beginning. Thus, while many sinful people died (all but 8), the effects of sin remain even in “righteous” Noah. Almost like we live today. The Latin phrase is appropriate: simul iustis et peccator (at the same time saint and sinner).
With the flood ended, God begins anew with Noah and his family. The original commission of Gen. 1:28 is repeated twice, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (9:1, 7). There are two additional provisions in this new beginning. 1) Now they will be able to eat meat. On the negative side whereas originally there appeared to be no fear involved in the creation, now there is fear between humans and animals. 2) In response to Cain’s slaying of Abel (Gen. 4), God now adds a provision related to the image of God (Gen. 1:26):
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
his blood will be shed by man,
for God made man in His image. (9:6)
God promises not to destroy all of creation again through a flood. God’s covenant with humans (through Noah) and every living creature is ratified by the sign: the bow (i.e. rainbow). This begins a process throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament: God makes a promise, establishing it as part of a covenant that only He can fulfill, and giving a sign of that covenant. We will see this also with Abraham, and ultimately with Jesus himself in the “new covenant” (or better, “new testament”).
Whenever I form clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all the living creatures: water will never again become a flood to destroy every creature. The bow will be in the clouds, and I will look at it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all the living creatures on earth. (9:14-16)
Despite God’s destruction of sinful humans through the flood, the deep nature of sin clinging to humans becomes evident shortly after the flood. Ham’s descendants receive a curse. This will affect even the relationship between Ham and his brothers (9:25-26).
The “table of nations” in chapter 10 shows how the descendants of Noah spread out. As is typical with the “account of” narratives in Genesis, the one who carries the promise (Shem) is addressed last. The others are listed first and then “discarded” to get to the crucial person/line.
God’s original command to humans was to populate the earth. In chapter 11 sin takes the form of rebellion against that provision. But even further, the language of rebellion mimics God’s creative work with the words “Let us build… let us make…” “otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (11:4).
God confuses the language of the people by causing them to speak in different languages. The hope of unity for sinful, rebellious humans is not thwarted. Further by confusing their ability to communicate, God through his punishment accomplishes what he originally wanted through promise: “So from there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth” (11:8).
The chapter ends with the family line of promise from Shem to Abram. This sets the stage for the move away from the creation and sin-destroying episodes to the specifics of salvation in Genesis 12-22. We also see the pattern of humans’ sinning, God’s judgment, and desire for humans to move beyond the traps of sin, guilt, shame, and fear.